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On Vacation, Kindly Car Seat Is Transformed Into a Beastly Burden

October 25, 2000|MARY McNAMARA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

I now know why people with small children do not go to places to which they must fly. It's not because of the expense--if you are willing to spend half of your natural lifetime cruising the Internet, you can find cheap flights to just about anywhere. It's not the packing and repacking of suitcase, diaper bag, toy bag and snack bag, or even the restless overheated hours running up and down the concourse, then up and down the aircraft aisle. No, the reason many Red Carpet Club habitues suddenly find themselves content with the seashore, the zoo and other driveable diversions is the car seat.

The car seat is the most unpackable, unstackable, unportable item under 10 pounds known to man. Or woman. Especially woman.

When traveling by air, parents are faced with the car-seat dilemma: to rent or schlep. If one is renting a car, one can almost always rent a car seat or two. Cost ranges from $6 to $10 a day, which may or may not be prohibitive. What is definitely prohibitive is the fact that, in all probability, the rental car seat will not be the same model you own. Which means you will not be familiar with its installation. Requests for aid from the young man in the rental agency kiosk draw the sort of stares usually reserved for those speaking in tongues, so there you are, hunched in the back seat, sweating and swearing while your infant sits in a stroller in the middle of a busy parking garage, and your toddler crawls into the front seat to flip every switch on the instrument panel.

Once you have miraculously gotten the thing in, you are faced with the possibility that one of your children will find something objectionable about it: the buckle is different, the angle is steeper, it smells funny--and so will act, each time you put him or her in the car, as if the seat were lined with broken bottles and nails.

Are we having fun yet?

No, we are not. Which is why, on a recent trip, we decided to schlep. Out of the car onto the shuttle, off the shuttle into the terminal, through the terminal to the check-in from the check-in through the concourse and onto the plane.

Reverse same at destination.

All of which is actually OK on the way to a holiday. On the way to a holiday, almost everything is OK--anticipation sweetens even the most arduous task, and the novelty of traveling creates its own hallucinatory buzz. Somehow, even wrestling a car seat into an airplane is exciting.

On the way home, however, the high is long gone, everyone's back hurts, everyone's mouth is dry, and no one wants to deal with the car seat. The toddler, now an experienced traveler, sees through exhortations of how fun it will be to ride in his own special seat on the airplane--he knows it is an instrument of confinement. He also remembers the taxi ride during the trip, when he got to sit on a lap with the breeze in his face and his hand briefly out the window. If he had his way, he would never sit in a car seat again.

The struggle to convince the toddler otherwise exhausted him, and by the time we touched down at LAX, he would not wake up. And so I carried the baby and the diaper bag, and Dad had him and the toy bag, and the only place I could think to put the car seat was on my head, and I'm thinking never again, never ever again: We will not get on an airplane until we take this kid to college.

But then, after we gathered the luggage and the other seat, got on and off the shuttle, put it all back in the car, the baby looked up from her seat and laughed, and the toddler whispered "Tank ooo" as I strapped him in, and we all realized that, yes, in fact, we were having fun. As for the car-seat hat--well, it's a look.

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